9 off the beaten track neighborhoods in Tokyo – Many first time visitors to Japan rely on a simple google search to locate interesting or famous sites of Tokyo. Heard of Harajuku yet? I’m sure you have. However, there are many more less obvious and more local spots that you will enjoy especially if you’ve been to Tokyo many times.
To experience life as a real Native inhabitant, read our compiled list of the coolest, off beaten spots devoid of tourists and gaping mouthed new-comers.
Nestled in the quiet neighbourhood of Meguro lies the town of Jiyugaoka. Ride on the Toyoko line and you will observe the most fashionably dressed locals getting on and off the train en route to some ritzy affair no doubt or just to do some shopping and handle daily chores. There are numerous apparel stores, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and stores under the broad term called “Zakka” which loosely translates to “miscellaneous things.” Zakka stores offer a variety of merchandise to help you improve your home, work life or appearance and are a staple in Japanese consumerism such as the famous Muji brand.
For a leisurely stroll, trot up and down a maze of brick streets influenced by a Western aesthetic. Charmingly there is even a little Venice with a canal and a gondola, not in use however. There are plenty of stores for your sweet tooth such as Hara Donuts, which offers a variety of questionably “healthy” donuts to Sweet Forests where you can indulge in sweet treats.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/pJo784a5PLr4rPzMA
2. Yokota “Little America”
The American presence in Japan would not be so welcome were it not for the relatively close destination of “Little America” or Yokota air base, located in the town of Fussa or Western Tokyo. Perhaps, if you are American you are missing home or if you are from another country, you can observe the American way of life filtered through the Japanese sensibility.
Everything on this base adheres to American law, so unfortunately you will not be able to enjoy drinking your favorite sake while loitering in the streets, as is acceptable in Japan. This airbase has its own radio channel and is broadcasted to many English speakers and the like who may not understand Japanese radio.
Although the locals cannot just pop in to visit the base, there is an annual “friendship festival” held in September where Japanese citizens can visit the base and experience a mutual sharing of merriment with the American forces. The base has also been the setting of a few movies and novels.
How to get there (Ushihama Station): https://goo.gl/maps/T3cYx2nFwgUVaKzr6
Not at all far from the famous district of Shinjuku lies a trendy neighbourhood, bustling with the most adorable second hand stores where you can score amazing and rare finds within a fairly long shopping arcade. You can buy the most unique clothes and jewelry and other items, perfect for their originality and authenticity.
This off the beaten track neighborhood in Tokyo also has an underground live music scene, lovingly referred to in Japan as a “live house” where many hopefuls play their music to a small gathering of adoring fans. North of the station you can find many used record stores and retro cafes. There are also several yakitori stands which sell chicken cutlets on a stick, a delicious and carb free treat.
Koenji is one of the hippest spots in Tokyo and is often the setting of many Manga comic book stories. Each year in late August the Koenji Awa Odori festival is held and is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction. There are also several parks near the area which are particularly beautiful to see during the cherry blossom season.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/T3pYQpgpq78GCHAWA
Shibamata is home to one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples of Tokyo’s surrounding neighbourhoods. It even has Japan’s only surviving traditional boat crossing along the river offering the most scenic view. The town is famous for being the hometown of the main character from one of Japan’s most iconic and enduring television shows “Otoko wa Tsurai” which translates into “boys are tough.” It follows the adventures and mishaps of an aging but optimistic man as he navigates his way through a challenging life.
To get to the temple, you would walk through an old shopping street which retains the traditional elements of Japan. Most of the structures are still intact from their original state and they add to the old fashioned ambiance of the journey. Beyond the gate to the temple is a 500 year old pine tree which many say resembles a dragon which is an appropriate resemblance as the dragon is the symbol that is historically placed in front of all temples in Japan.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/kDMCxr5wy89hY8vv5
Now we come to Daikanyama one of the most luxurious spots in Tokyo, not far from the well known Shibuya but of a completely different charm. Brunch is not often a common activity in Japan; however, here you can find many popular brunch options serving up an array of large portioned, western styled omelettes or Eggs Benedict for the hungry traveler.
There have been many tales of celebrity sightings as this is a pleasant location for the rich and famous to call home, being that it is close to the city but a relatively quiet and residential place. For an ideal picnic head up to Saigoyama a nearby hill top park boasting one of the most outstanding views of the city.
There is only one train station in Daikanyama on the Toyoko line. You may be surprised to discover that this station is somewhat old and not glittery by any means such as the rest of Daikanyama; however, this short trip from Shibuya is worth it as you can observe what the modern Japanese desire in a neighbourhood.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/PPYBfvwNKcGx6oMK7
Want to get a feel for what the elderly woman of Japan dress in or perhaps pick up a gift for Grandma? Head on over to Sugamo the “Harajuku for old ladies.” This shopping district right off Sugamo station on the Yamanote line is lined with over 200 shops that sell food and clothing marketed for the elderly.
Japan famously has a large elderly community and Japanese women are known to live very long lives. Sugamo shows perhaps what has made the elderly lively and youthful as well as healthy with the variety of merchandise available.
Originally, what made this off the beaten track neighborhood in Tokyo most popular was a small temple home to a Buddhist statue which is purported to heal sickness and illness. Many people line up to wash their hands and pray for good health and longevity as is common in Buddhist tradition.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/oymhSzURBHeQBhVQ9
For the past twenty years or so Kichijoji has retained its status as the most desirable places to live in Tokyo. Just West of Shinjuku you can find yourself in a shopping paradise with hordes of stores and restaurants. Like Koenji, Kichijoji also has a very vibrant “live house” scene popular with young people. Not far from the station is the magnificent park called “Inokashira Koen” which has a very boating lake attached to a small zoo.
You can choose between a row boat or a cute pedal boat in the shape of a swan. There is one exceptionally popular swan boat which has eyelashes, manage to get this boat and you are said to have luck in love and happiness. The park is particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom season, when the Sakura grow low enough to touch the water of the lake.
Within the arcade near the station there is the famous “Harmonica Yokocho” a collection of bars and small restaurants within hidden alley ways. These places are tiny however, with some being so small that there is only room enough to stand. However, locals enjoy finishing off their day with a nice cold drink or some traditional Japanese snacks.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/Jekf7D3RpYogXq6u8
Just one express stop from Shibuya is Tokyo’s well renowned Shimokitazawa with a bohemian appeal. With narrow streets which make for few cars, Shimokitazawa is a pedestrian paradise with a number of vintage dress shops and coffee stands. There are several movie theatres where local films are shown day and night. Happily the city is devoid of large chain shops and has been consistent with keeping a local and independent vibe. Several used clothing stores offer affordable and not so affordable garments and attire.
Shimokitazawa is also home to several record shops for listeners interested in music from the 60s and 70s. There is also a night life industry with several pubs and bars and izakayas for when you want to take the edge off after a busy day of idle browsing. There was a now defunct site called Shimokitazawa cage which was essentially a spot for pop up events and shows. Shimokitazwa is also famous for being a ramen hub. There is a host of different ramen hubs which serve various flavours of ramen.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/Wj9vNCFq8PQk73WE6
Yanesen is a portmanteau word for Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi which make up the three neighbourhoods. The old Tokyo area is famous for its small streets with many potted plants cared for lovingly by long time cat loving residents. Not much has changed in this part of town since the Edo period which give the town an old world ambiance. Among the many fascinating museums and art galleries in Tokyo is one located in Yanesen called the Scai Bathhouse, which used to be a bath house but is now a gallery. Viewers can spot amazing pieces from both local and foreign artists. There is a staggering 100 temples in Yanesen alone. There are also several beautiful and tasteful Japanese zen gardens which accompany the temples. Kannon-ji temple with its mud wall is one of the last standing temples of the kind. Culminate your trip to Tokyo by taking a trip back and seeing the beauty that once was.
Read our complete travel guide on Yanesen.
How to get there: https://goo.gl/maps/a22NvC8Fw3ZUHAZg6
Conclusion – Off The Beaten Track Neighborhoods in Tokyo
With all the common and tainted tourist attractions in Tokyo it is lovely to view another side of Tokyo, one that is off beaten, raw and pure. As Robert Frost famously wrote:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
There you have it, our recommendation of the 9 off the beaten track neighborhoods in Tokyo! Which one is your favorite? Which one is missing on our list? Share it with us on our Facebook group.